Depending on what your ultimate preference is, the South Region may be the most enticing one for you this March.
Do you like shocking upsets? Or do you like electric playmakers that are vying for the Wooden Award? If you’re a fan of the first you may get your wish in the South, but if you are most excited by the latter, this is definitely a region worth keeping a close eye on.
Whether it’s Malik Monk knocking down tough shots for Kentucky or Lonzo Ball dishing a sweet passes to a wide open teammate under the basket for UCLA, this section of the bracket should be filled with highlight reel worthy performances left and right. The amazing thing is that these aren’t experienced players that are getting the well-deserved attention. Both Monk and Ball are freshmen, almost surely entering the NBA Draft after their one season as BMOC, but dazzling college hoops fans for five months all the same.
Experience could play a key role in this region, though, as it is in short supply for some of the top teams. Let’s take a look at the high-flying South Region.
First Round Games to Watch
#5 Minnesota vs. #12 Middle Tennessee State (Friday, 1:30 PM ET)
The 5/12 matchups are sexy upset picks for a lot of people, but it isn’t often that the No. 12 seed is so popular that choosing one feels like you’re picking the favorite. Such is the case in this game, though. Middle Tennessee State isn’t a new name to anyone that paid attention to last year’s tournament – the Blue Raiders shocked the nation when it sent title contender Michigan State home packing after just one game. What’s interesting about this year’s team is that many of those pieces return, complemented by Arkansas transfer JaCorey Williams, who leads the team in scoring.
Minnesota is no slouch, though, and was playing as well as any team in the Big Ten near the end of the season. While this isn’t necessarily saying a lot, the Golden Gophers absolutely have the personnel to match up with the Blue Raiders. Solid rebounding is an advantage for Richard Pitino’s squad, though Middle Tennessee State defends the basket well. If the Blue Raiders can handle Minnesota’s size inside and set the pace of the game, this is a good spot to find your No. 12 seed that advances.
#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Northern Kentucky (Friday, 9:40 PM ET)
The Norse are one of the biggest underdogs in the first round, but how many times do you get to face big brother in a “winner stays” scenario? Northern Kentucky has never been to an NCAA Tournament before, qualifying for the Big Dance in the program’s first year of eligibility. They weren’t the Horizon League’s best team during the regular season and didn’t even have to face the top seeds in the conference tournament, but here they are, set to take on Kentucky for a chance at orchestrating one of the biggest upsets in Tournament history.
The No. 15 seed is 8-120 overall in the NCAA Tournament, and the Wildcats would be the laughing stock of more than just the state of Kentucky if they were to lose this game. It’s very unlikely to happen, but I see this game going one of two ways. Either John Calipari’s team will take no prisoners and easily cover the spread, or the Norse will remind them that not everyone in the Bluegrass State bleeds blue. And most who don’t are tired of hearing about it.
Team That Could Make a Run
By some accounts, the Shockers are the single most underseeded team in the entire Tournament. This is dangerous not only for the Dayton Flyers, Wichita State’s first round opponent, but every other team in the South region as well. It’s funny that this is how things turned out, because not too long before the bracket was released there was a lot of talk about how the Shockers were stunted by their weak strength of schedule.
Wichita State does everything well, from rebounding (fifth in the country), scoring (20th) and team defense (62.4 PPG allowed). This is a younger team, but one that got to witness former stars like Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet lead their team to deep runs in multiple NCAA Tournaments. The Shockers are the most complete double digit seed in the Tournament and have a legitimate shot at extending their current 15 game winning streak by more than just one.
#1 North Carolina over #16 Texas Southern
#9 Seton Hall over #8 Arkansas
#12 Middle Tennessee State over #5 Minnesota (upset alert)
#4 Butler over #13 Winthrop
#6 Cincinnati over #11 Kansas State
#3 UCLA over #14 Kent State
#10 Wichita State over #7 Dayton
#2 Kentucky over #15 Northern Kentucky
#1 North Carolina over #9 Seton Hall
#12 Middle Tennessee State over #4 Butler (upset alert)
#3 UCLA over #6 Cincinnati
#2 Kentucky over #10 Wichita State
#1 North Carolina over #12 Middle Tennessee State
#2 Kentucky over #3 UCLA
#2 Kentucky over #1 North Carolina
Since this is the final region preview of the NCAA Tournament, it’s time to reveal Around The Corn’s Final Four picks.
#2 Arizona (West Region) over #1 Villanova (East Region)
#1 Kansas (Midwest Region) over #2 Kentucky (South Region)
#1 Kansas over #2 Arizona